My Top 35 Albums of 2022

Here we are again. With 96 2022 albums and counting in my collection and who knows how many others sampled, this is probably one of the hardest (but most rewarding) year end lists I’ve put together. I heard a heck of a lot of stuff. My usual mid-year drift away from new releases just didn’t happen. I kept with it, and now I’m left scrambling to make chops on what is going to be the longest album list I’ve posted since 2008.

But first, an essential primer:

Pocket Gnome – Oh, to Find a Home for a Gnome

comfy synth

Sample track: It’s 7 minutes just listen to it

This is a 7 minute EP about a happy gnome who finds a perfect home, and if you don’t like it you suck.

…Ok let’s go it’s a 35 album year end list huzzah!!

35. Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems

hip hop, hardcore punk


This is the most fresh punk album I’ve heard in a while. The description is pretty straight forward. Pierce Jordan and co wrote a hardcore album and filled it out with all sorts of hip hop elements and rapped sequences. If that notion intrigues you, you’ll probably like it. I can say the album didn’t stick around on my playlist long after the novelty wore off, but hardcore never does really. The discovery process was delightful, and if its not my favorite 2022 release, it’s absolutely something I encourage everyone to experience at least once.

34. Lunar Spells – Demise of Heaven

black metal

Sample track: Damnation of the Heavenly Sun

I was introduced to this band earlier in the year via their 2021 release Where Silence Whispers and then started noticing Demise of Heaven on recommendation lists. They really excel at keeping it simple, with a crisp tight lofi sound driven by short and basic repetitive melodies. It’s old school in a way that I want way more than I actually hear, direct and uncompromising but focused on feel over force, harsh but also kind of pretty in its way.

33. Veilburner – VLBRNR

psychedelic death metal

Sample track: Lo! Heirs to the Serpent

Veilburner have evolved into a bit of a pet obsession of mine over the years–one of those bands I’m just going to instantly pre-order without sampling and preemptively know I will enjoy. They landed on a sound I adore and, as eclectic as their individual songs may be, they seldom deviate from the core formula. That formula happens to be endlessly brooding and bending incongruous avantgarde chaos. A December release handicapped my ability to absorb it all. It doesn’t feel quite as compelling as their last album, but they’re always a slow grow and there’s nowhere to go but up from here.

32. Auriferous Flame – The Great Mist Within

atmospheric black metal

Sample track: The Great Mist Within

Recorded in his traditional abyssally hollow style, this Ayloss project was difficult to engage even by his standards. But the payout is still there in the form I’ve come to expect it: massive walls of bombast shrouding airy medieval melodic brilliance. It’s just bleaker here, even more marginalized, the faintest glimpses of beauty in a mire of cold plodding fury. It’s a bit of a challenge and not quite as captivating for me as his works as Spectral Lore and Mystras–no strangers to my year end top 3–but I got more than my Bandcamp dollars’ worth exploring it.

31. Artificial Brain – Artificial Brain

tech death metal

Sample track: Artificial Brain

If the gurgling vocals on this were replaced with more conventional growls, I think half of it could decently pass as a Krallice album. I’m glad they aren’t; that choking on my vomit sound hits me right in the sweet spot. Artificial Brain is very much in that later Krallician frantically performed lowkey monomoodal spectrum, tending to wash out in my head if I’m not actively engaging with it. I find this sort of stuff really rewarding; it can just play as a background piece, and any time I want to zone in I’m guaranteed something waiting for me to latch on to. They have an underutilized knack for writing incredibly desperate-feeling tremolo melodies that I hope is given more of a spotlight on future albums. My favorite tracks tend to be where they embrace that, most notably on the opener sampled above.

30. Mizmor & Thou – Myopia

doom metal

Sample track: Myopia

The ten minute funeral dirge of a title track is reason enough to pick this up, and there’s 74 minutes of other material to toy around with after that. Thou and Mizmor are a pretty sick combo and sound, well, pretty much exactly how I would have expected them to. Don’t count on much to rev you up here, opening track aside. The album’s a sequence of crushingly thick slow rolls peppered with Mizmor’s black metal inclinations and Thou’s respect for 90s thematics.

Would I remember this album as much without the title track? Well, no, I absolutely wouldn’t. Myopia the song is a doom metal anthem for the ages and single-handedly carries this album into the sphere of something I’ll remember for years to come. But the rest is pretty rad too.

29. Fogweaver – Labyrinthine

dungeon synth

Sample track: Fogweaver – The Ring of Erreth-Akbe

Dungeon synth is my new jam. As I slowly but surely transition towards becoming a feeble, decrepit, 40 year old boomer, my old bones just aren’t going to be able to take blast beats and pig snorts much longer. Thankfully, people with access to MIDI keyboards have taken compassion and established a genre that us olds can still enjoy.

I love dungeon synth. The itch was always there–Summoning stands as my third most listened to band all time–but I’ve scratched my way thoroughly down the rabbit hole at this point and buy nearly as much of this stuff as I do metal. It’s not the easiest genre to rank. I’m barely even listening to it when I put it on. It’s my ultimate dream background music genre. But it’s been woefully underrepresented on my year end lists, and I can’t continue to leave it off if I want to be honest about what I’m actually listening to. I binged Fogweaver a lot this year as a full discography playthrough. If I had to pick a favorite album, I’m not sure it would be this one. But I think this was my favorite dungeon synth discovery this year with a 2022 release, and I’m feeling pretty damn satisfied right now listening to it as I write this.

28. Antecantamentum – Saturnine December

post-black metal

Sample track: Wraith

I was about wrapped up with my 2022 year end list, making a final browse through new Bandcamp releases, when what to my wandering ears should appear but a killer December 9th experimental black metal release. It’s a really meandering album that can be repetitious in phases but rarely follows a single theme to any logical conclusion, transitioning between thematic riffs and harsh assaults and peaceful post-black drifts and acoustic breaks without a predictable progression. Hints of Enslaved and Panopticon perhaps, if I had to guess at some bigger name influences, but Melpomenë has certainly crafted her own irreverent song-writing process that keeps me on my toes. I love that I’m never quite sure where a given track will take me, and the getting there is pretty fun too.

27. Cervidae – Majestic Fables & Tales

comfy synth

Sample track: The Floating Castle Calls

I’ve been pretty heavily diving into dungeon synth and its awkwardly pleasant offshoot comfy synth all year, and while it’s rare for any one album in these genres to grip me on a level that justifies year-end placement, I absolutely adore queuing up full discographies of these artists and letting them roll all day.

One of these dives lead me to purchasing the full Eisenfell label catalogue–a surreal collection of vaporwave hiphop comfy synth hybrid monstrosities that tickle me almost as pink as this album cover. I highly recommend hopping around through them on Bandcamp for an evening. Cervidae’s second demo, Majestic Fables & Tales, ultimately stood out as my favorite in the mix. Maybe I’m letting the collective novelty skew my placement here a bit, but I don’t care.

26. Grima – Frostbitten

atmospheric black metal

Sample track: Giant’s Eternal Sleep

I tend to seek out innovations and projects that push norms to new limits, but sometimes a band can just come around and drop a solid atmospheric black metal album and I’m all in. Frostbitten doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary outside of the occasional accordion accompaniment, which is itself pretty ordinary in Russian black metal these days, but it doesn’t need to. It’s just a really satisfying wintry nature soundscape that’s excellently performed and ships a lot of good melodic progressions without overreaching.

The only review I found of it makes a point of criticizing the production, and that gave me pause to listen to it a bit differently. I quickly noticed… I don’t want to say flaws, but a definite blending together of sounds that enhances the atmospheric vibe at the expense of its distinct parts. But I connected with Frostbitten as a background-oriented mood piece despite its melodic tendencies. I like the overall aesthetic, and that doesn’t always require instrumental clarity. Maybe with better production this album could have amounted to more, but I’m loving it for what it is.

25. Krallice – Crystalline Exhaustion

atmospheric black metal

Sample track: Dismal Entity

Modern Krallice is not the band I fell in love with 14 years ago. They’re unrecognizable juxtaposed. Their constantly evolving sound has been more interesting than endearing to me. They slowly drifted off of my year end charts, but they were never forgotten. Demonic Wealth intrigued me quite a bit last year with its transition into synth-driven atmospheric sounds vaguely reminiscent of Botanist. Crystalline Exhaustion is the logical next step in that direction, and its cover art could not describe it more perfectly. This album sounds, intentionally as far as I can tell, like it was recorded in a crystal cavern a mile under the earth. It is a soundtrack for exploring such realms. It accomplishes this so vividly that I can’t help but feel a deeper connection to the band again, perhaps the most I have since Loüm and Go Be Forgotten.

24. Drudkh – All Belong to the Night

atmospheric black metal

Sample track: Windmills

Ok, look, I know that if Drudkh took a dump on a paper plate and called it music I wouldn’t gobble it up because I didn’t place Handful of Stars on my 2010 list. (I haven’t listened to that album in over a decade, so apologies if it was actually good and I was too hurr metal hurr at the time to appreciate it.) Wait, did I just apologize for not eating the shit sandwich? uh… Drudkh are pretty incapable of writing music I don’t absolutely adore, and that’s a testament to their enduring capacity to maintain a fundamentally unaltered core sound while pumping out endless quality material for twenty years as much as it’s a testament to my enduring love for that core sound they flooded the Ukrainian bm scene with so many years ago. This album is just beautiful from start to finish. I’m thankful they’re still able to do it after all the fucking bullshit their country has had to endure this year.

23. Everything Everything – Raw Data Feel


Sample track: Teletype

The opening track of this alone is enough to sell me if the rest doesn’t fall to pieces. It might be the most infectious banger I’ve heard all year. Jonathan Higgs’ vocal style is absolutely enchanting throughout and single-handedly carries half the tracks I’m otherwise neutral on to grand heights.

Make no mistake, pop is not my forte or something I naturally gravitate to. I hadn’t even heard Everything Everything before this album. A lot of these songs had me going “wow this is great in spite of”. It definitely feels like a bookended album, with the opener and closer distinctly exceeding the in between for me. But the enjoyment is authentic, if that makes any sense. It doesn’t leave me wanting more so much as occasionally consciously going wow I’m surprised I still like this.

When it came time to sort a year end list, I decided I like it quite a bit!

22. White Ward – False Light

progressive black metal

Sample track: Phoenix

I didn’t latch onto this album quite as much as a lot of people (I’ve been seeing it tossed around as album of the year outright), but my goodness does it have some stellar moments. A progressive black metal album packed with slow brooding saxophone and not averse to spoken sound clip samples, I honestly like it best at its most conventional. When these songs take off, they gooooo with precision and intensity and intricacy that makes the wait worth it every time. I sometimes wish I was a little more viscerally engaged with the in betweens, but they’re never dull or redundant.

21. Dinbethes – Balans

pagan metal

Sample track: Geboren

Sucker for amazing album covers that I am, I gave this an instant sample when it showed up as a new release on Bandcamp, and it wound up in my cart shortly after. Its mid-tempo blackened viking metal grooves hook me start to finish, and at 34 minutes, it’s a relatively easy listen that feeds my endless craving for the style and occasionally really pops off with something brilliant. The middle track Geboren in particular has a really cool sort of Middle Eastern vibe going on. Solo musician J. manages to make often neglected black metal bass relevant and uses some creative bending to forge epic moments. Geboren never gets too fancy for its own good and delivers its creativity in a controlled package. An admirable debut.

20. Entgeist – Res Gestae

progressive blackened death metal

Sample track: Verfall

Really nice all-arounder. Blackened death metal with progressive flares seems to be my bread and butter these days, and Entgeist stood out a lot for both their capacity to ship memorable riffs and their willingness to experiment around a fundamentally traditional core. I think the production’s a bit washed on the guitars and doesn’t always do justice to the full assault potential of the song-writing, but I love what they’re doing here and hope this album’s relative obscurity half a year after release doesn’t dissuade them from keeping it up.

19. Boris – Heavy Rocks 2022

heavy rock

Sample track: She Is Burning

Leave it to Boris to pop off a killer metal-leaning song with brass in the year when every band on the planet seems to be doing it. Heavy Rocks 2022 kicks off about as fabulous as any Boris album ever could, with She Is Burning firing full speed ahead in their most quintessential psychedelic punk sound while still managing to find yet another new flavor novelty. The album ranges pretty far from there in ways that only Boris would consider. It’s a smattering of most major leanings they’ve had over the years, written in the spirit of No with a flare for high energy consistent across the Heavy Rocks titles. It has no flow to speak of and seems like a randomly sorted Boris buffet, jumping from punk to jazz experimentation over an eclectic Nirvana-esque bass groove to drone to electronic-infused hardcore to a dire slow rolled piano and vocal outro with no regard for the listener’s sensibilities, and as far as I’m concerned that’s just part of their charm. The album literally ends mid note without explanation, a not-so-subtle hint that if you want the real deal you should go see them live.

And I did, for the fifth time, and it was just as good as always. 🙂

18. Esoctrilihum – Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh

brutal black metal

Sample track: Thertrh

Sometimes I just want to smash things. Aurally debase everything around me and revel in ruin. Portal’s Avow filled that niche for me last year. This year, Esoctrilihum has been getting the job done. The album is so effectively destructive that I usually miss all the interesting things they do along the way. Once in a while my head snaps into place and goes wait there is a song here. I like it that way.

17. Moonlight Sorcery – Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity

melodic black metal

Sample track: Wolven Hour

Bombastic anthemic black metal in a constant state of hype that’s uniquely, for the genre at least, distinguished by some very creative drumming. It’s an excellent debut EP from a band with fairly little pedigree. I had a lot of fun listening to this and had to share. They followed it up with a second EP that I haven’t had a moment to check out yet, but hopes are high. I could see a master class full length coming from them a year or two down the road.

16. Liminal Dream – Mind

experimental metal, ambient

Sample track: Liminal Sight

I don’t think my love of Damián Antón Ojeda music is any secret these days. Liminal Dream is one of his lesser known projects, but this album is a wild ride. Throughout Mind, he uses a lot of electronic effects in fairly basic ways that don’t really need to be technically cutting edge to get the job done, because it’s all about creating a very unique atmosphere. As always, his music sounds like it was recorded under a rock at the bottom of a volcano inside a trench in the Pacific Ocean, and that melds uniquely with the programmed drumming, keyboard, and massively clipped samples he brings to the table here. In ways it stays true to his post-rock orientation as Sadness, but there’s less structural build-up to climax tradition. The songs tend to collapse into these mires of ambient and harsh noise that feel fresh and incredible to me.

15. Spire of Lazarus – Soaked in the Sands

progressive deathcore

Sample tracks: Soldier of Sand, Mask of the Wraith

Or more accurately, progressive djent chipslam deathcore uh something something this many notes should not be able to exist on an album. It’s pretty cheesy but compensates by going hard as hell at all times with almost no room to breathe.

I feel like I place a Mechina album most years for hitting the same nerdcore appeal on a significantly tamer level. Mechina’s 2022 release didn’t do much for me, but this album stuffed the void until it ruptured rainbow mucus all over my eardrums.

14. Sadness – Our Time is Here


Sample track: Late Spring True Love

Late Spring True Love is heartbreakingly gorgeous, and Sunset Girl is an admirable supplement to qualify this as an EP instead of a single. Its only flaw is being 11 minutes when I want a full album. Long known for his post-black metal projects that dabbled in pretty and fragile things, on Our Time is Here, Sadness drops the metal veneer entirely and embraces a purely shoegazed-out emo punk sound. It’s fabulous. I want to place it even higher; it’s just so short that it’s hard for me to see it as a complete package from an album standpoint. Late Spring True Love is my favorite song of 2022.

13. Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium: Undreamable Abysses

atmospheric black metal

Sample track: The Apotheosis of the Unnamable

This album might be best summarized by its cover.

I was first turned on to Blut Aus Nord in 2011 with 777 Sect(s), and the sequence of albums from there through Memoria Vetusta III consistently enthralled me. They started to drift in a direction I struggled to connect with after that. I have very little memory of Deus Salutis Meæ or Hallucinogen, and I felt the latter underperformed their side project Yerûšelem that same year.

Damn what a return to… quality. I can’t say form for such an amorphous being. Blut Aus Nord’s core sound is unmistakable throughout their discography, but the directions they’ve applied it in vary significantly. This album is an astral swamp. A hellspace of swirling bile that resists the temptation to manifest into anything solid and just keeps on brooding for 46 intensely satisfying minutes. It’s been one of the most dominant background albums for me all year, recapturing that essence of profound untamed mystery I fell in love with them for a decade ago from a novel angle.

The progression of this album is so amazing too. I wouldn’t say it has any sort of linear flow, but each track just sounds better to me than the one before it. Whether that’s an objective quality or just a steady immersion, it ends when I am most prepared to let it play on forever. The replay value is endless.

12. Falls of Rauros – Key to a Vanishing Future

folk black metal

Sample track: Clarity

Falls of Rauros are up to six full length albums now, and I have somehow managed to accumulate all of them without actually listening to anything since Hail Wind and Hewn Oak back in 2008. I don’t know if the timing didn’t align with my mood or what, but I ended up going into this album with an essentially blank slate, and I was really taken aback by how pretty it is. I don’t even mean in the sense that they write scenic melodies. I mean, if you took out the harsh guttural screaming, this could be one of those easy listening albums. Adult contemporary. Or something like that. …

Really, this album is so chill. Falls of Rauros have a reputation for writing beautiful music, but a quick skim leads me to think they went further here, forcibly reducing the harshness of their tones to better match their picturesque melodies. I don’t know how they manage to make a black metal-rooted sound so damn agreeable. Country grim frostbitten wintermoons, take me home.

11. black midi – Hellfire

experimental progressive math rock

Sample track: Welcome to Hell

Ok, I confess, for a few years there I thought that the meme synth billion note experimentation scene was just really popular. This is the first year I dove into black midi the band, so my perspective is lacking previous albums that I’ve been told are just as good if not better.

Oh well.

Whatever the hell is going on through this 40 minute clusterfuck of sound, Geordie Greep’s unique vocal performance and theatrical lyrics give it the air of an exhibition, like each track is the next display in some freak show. It’s that consistency that makes it not just a great collection of songs but a great album for me, and it carries the least enticing moments (I could live without Still) through as part of a bigger picture. I enjoy it best as a full ride from start to finish.

I had 11 top 10 albums this year. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes. Something had to get the chop, and ultimately I want metal more.

10. Boris – fade


Sample track: 終章 a bao a qu -無限回廊-

Holy crap what a treat. When Heavy Rocks 2022 was announced in July I predicted there would be a third full length this year. W screamed Wata to me. Heavy Rocks was the Atsuo project. Takeshi would get his turn leading the pack. I have no idea if that’s how it actually works in the studio for them, but here we are. It’s early to be judging this, I know. A December 2nd release doesn’t allow for much processing time. But I’ll venture to say this is the best drone project they’ve dropped since Altar with Sunn O))) in 2006.

This sounds so good aaaaaaaa the first track has these very faintly mixed shrieking siren guitars in the background that remind me of what Wata did far more prominently on Intro from Akuma No Uta. Every track has something fuzzing and echoing and wailing behind the crushing wall of doom guitar just out of reach, always beckoning. The whole album is beautiful and I’m so happy Boris went this route. I want to say this is my favorite thing they’ve released since at least Dear (I think Dear was great and its poor reception was mostly due to the newest fanbase expecting something different, but I digress), and it’s only going to get better over time.

9. Kostnatění – Oheň hoří tam, kde padl

avant-garde folk black metal

Sample track: Çay benim çeşme benim

A massive wall of frantic chaos to primitive melodies that don’t conjure any sense of a modern folk connection. This EP’s assault is more like a mass slaughter ritual in an antiquity that achieved dystopia before they even invented musical notation. I’m never quite sure what is happening instrumentally here, but I’m pretty sure a blood moon just collapsed into the Pyramid of Giza and the wrath of Anubis is about to rupture forth from my rib cage.

Holy crap I just realized pulling a youtube sample link for this that the entire EP is a. Turkish folk. cover album. My mind is completely blown.

8. Immolation – Acts of God

death metal

<a href=" album. My mind is completely blown.

Sample track: An Act of God

I consistently slept on Immolation for years before this album dropped, but something in that album cover spoke to me enough to check it out, and damn. This is so punchy from start to finish. It captures an older school death metal ethos of never holding back on the pummel, but it gets it done with modern expectations of (actual) production quality that I can enjoy without a lingering craving for more. It’s managed to stay on rotation for 10 months now without feeling stale, and the title track is absolutely one of my favorite songs of the year.

7. Fortress of the Pearl – The Grove

piano and black metal bliss

Sample track: At the Center Of It All, I Fear Of What’s Outside

Ayloss did that thing he seems to do at least once every other year where he puts out the new best Ayloss project I have ever heard holy crap this is euphoric. Start with his sound on Mystras and layer it with gorgeous piano and dulcimer and ride this into oblivion. I’m speechless listening to it. I wish I had found it sooner–had had more time to listen it next to III and Castles Conquered and Reclaimed and Ετερόφωτος and get a real feel for where it ranks for me in the canon of one of my all-time favorite artists. I discovered it when I started making this list, and this is not a year in which I can rocket something up to seventh place lightly. But here it is, already, and it is sure to dominate my January playlist.

6. Hath – All That Was Promised

blackened death metal

Sample track: Decollation

The first thing I look for in new music is a feel. The what they’re doing to accomplish it, that comes later if they’ve acquired my interest. Maybe that’s why the further back in time I go, the more I tend to shrug off death metal projects and lean ever more on black metal. Death metal bands of late have been growing tremendously proficient at shipping an atmosphere I can instantly connect with, and there’s just so many more interesting things going on to engage my brain along the way. Hath’s new album clicks for me like Ulcerate. I want to drown in its overarching encompassing void. The songs get to assault me with their depth and character from that sweet spot, not on the outside looking in.

5. Scarcity – Aveilut

post-black metal

Sample track: II

A nearly 8 minute intro track can seem like a tall order, but it sunk in pretty quick that Aveilut is not meant to be experienced as a collection of songs. It plods forward in perpetual moody motion, painting a sequence of grim, hostile landscapes like stages in a video game or circles of hell. The pacing is perfect. I builds up huge anticipation and then II instantly delivers with a pulse driven by some merciless freight train tone I can’t identify but fell madly in love with on first encounter.

The album refuses to break from the forward motion established in I, introducing more and more sinister elements to the journey that express themselves as layers over the rhythm rather than significant changes in the structure. The percussion evaporates in IV, but by then the album has already conditioned me to feel motion, and the airy post-rock guitar tones maintain a sense of vast open space. The landscape is just bleak and desolate now, a droned out hellscape occupied by a singular menacing mass represented by the most effective growling I have heard on a drone track in a while. V is the least like the others: a conflicting mood–a scramble of finality and triumph and hopelessness–a hollow victory to conclude an intensely dark and visceral musical journey.

4. Swampborn – Beyond Ratio

progressive black metal

Sample tracks: Sleepingstatic, Transitions

This album feels like it’s going to be generic metal for about one minute before blitzing out the first of countless killer riffs. Maybe the discordant ear-piercing tremolo at 1:45 or the industrial funk solo and subtly mixed choir at 3:50 first clued me in that the ride would be far reaching. But by the end of my first spin through opening track Entropie, I was definitely aware that I was listening to something special. How far it would go, how much it would do, that’s something I’m still soaking in dozens of plays later.

There’s an Eastern European black metal centerpoint to a lot of it that I could see feeling like a drag at times if that’s very not your thing. That sound is one of the most satisfying mood trends in music to my ears, so I’m in for the long haul. I have no pressing desire to pay attention because I’m already content with it in the background, but there’s soooo much going on. These songs have so many key moments and tight transitions and short-lived catchy melodies (the brass passage on Muscarum has been stuck in my head for months), I discover something new every time I put it on. It’s hard to pick a sample track because each song is such a unique, self-contained package.

It’s a real shame this has been slept on. I did find out that about half of the album is rerecordings of demos they released eight years ago, so maybe that’s a factor? But it just leaves me more impressed because it means they were using brass and sax in black metal before it was cool. Go experience this and tell me if I’m crazy to call it a strong album of the year contender.

3. Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture

avant-garde metal

Sample track: Tragic Heroin

I’ve made so many bad decisions creating these lists over the years that when I went to do a 20 year anniversary review in 2021 it was so cringe I couldn’t motivate myself to write about it. 2015 was a respectable year for me, relatively speaking, but placing A Forest of Stars’ Beware the Sword You Cannot See seventh was an atrocity. This album feels like its spiritual sequel, both in style and in quality.

If you are familiar with Beware the Sword You Cannot See, that might come off as a pretty absurd statement. It was an incredibly unique work. But here we are, rambling furious spoken operatic Brit over violin and sax-driven melodies that meander between Pink Floyd-esque dreams and frantic blast beat explosions with the tangled strings of prog chaos tying them together.

I couldn’t bring myself to bump this album up to first place, but I’m fairly confident it’s the one I’ll still be listening to the most four years down the road.

(I just realized this was my 666th Bandcamp purchase and now take full credit for it being an outstanding metal album.)

2. Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up Here

indie/post-rock. post-indie rock? not indie post-rock

Sample track: Basketball Shoes

As far as I can tell this has been the most hyped album of 2022 all year, so I don’t know that it needs much of an introduction, but I can confirm that it’s pretty damn brilliant. Beautiful, diverse orchestration accenting fragile, compellingly personal vocals. The songs often progress like post-rock anthems, but the getting there is arguably even more rewarding than the payout. I went back and sampled their previous album and couldn’t care less about it, so I’m pretty sure my disconnect from the modern indie scene isn’t swaying my opinion here. (Besides, I was a rabid indie consumer for the better part of a decade.) Bread Song aside, which uniquely irritates me for being so boring in the midst of so many gripping cuts, this album is in fact all it’s hyped up to be.

1. Chat Pile – God’s Country

sludge, nu metal

Sample track: Slaughterhouse

Echoing drums and a blood-curdling scream of hammers and grease set an immediately devastating stage on God’s Country. Rhythmically keen, crushing guitar wades through a miasma of shit and ruin to Raygun Busch’s barely coherent shrieks, briefly yielding to introduce his unnervingly fragile spoken vocal style before launching sky high in a shoegaze guitar siren accompanied by desperate shouts of if we could fly away now; if we could only fly away.

And all the blood All the blood And the fuckin sound, man You never forget their eyes Everyone’s head rings here Everyone’s head rings here And there’s no escape There’s no motherfucking exit Hammers and grease Pounding Pounding And the sad eyes, goddamnit And the screaming More screaming than you’d think There’s more screaming than you’d think Everyone’s head rings here Everyone’s head rings here

The genius of God’s Country is in never losing intimate accessibility through descents into brutality. Instrumentally, the album is sludged out nu metal at its core, but the feel shares very little in common with the genre’s tendency for ham-fisted mediocrity. The downtuned grooves are delivered with an introspective sensibility that reminds me more of Tool and Nirvana and Steve Albini than anything within the sphere of the actual style they’re orbiting. There are endless subtleties that make every moment feel like unique, un-interchangeable components in the musical narrative.

Raygun Busch puts the crown on the whole thing with a lyrical and vocal performance that’s easier to think of as voice acting than singing. He is constantly addressing both the listener and the subject nightmares assaulting him in a spoken first-person string of consciousness that blurs lines between the narrative fiction (or in some cases uncomfortable reality) and a direct conversation. Have you ever had ringworm? The closing track depicts a drug-induced psychotic breakdown so vivid that it’s hard to imagine he isn’t actually having one in the studio.

God’s Country has some of the best lyrical delivery I have ever heard, and the musical backdrop for Raygun’s performance is an intricately woven journey resurrecting and successfully blending tons of 80s and 90s innovations into a completely fresh sound. Easy album of the year choice.

My Top 25 Albums of 2021

This is the first year I relied exclusively on Bandcamp for downloads, and I think the artist notifications and trending recommendations paid off a lot. The last time I felt comfortable pushing my aoty list past 20 without resorting to entries that felt like filler name recognition was 2011. This year I ended up at 25 with plenty of potential honorable mentions.

25. Panopticon – …and Again into the Light

post-black metal

Sample track: Rope Burn Exit

I never quite understood why Austin Lunn kept his fiddle and amplifier in separate closets, but, for the most part up to this point, his folk and metal passages tended to make room for each other. They still do stylistically, but the violin has a free hand to enhance the black metal throughout this album in a way I feel he’d only offered brief glimpses at before. The result is a very lush, full recording that’s maybe a bit too post-rocky to fill my tasteometer on a regular basis but offers a very immersive experience when the mood strikes.

24. Mystras – Empires Vanquished and Dismantled

medieval black metal

Sample track: The Fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Ayloss projects always take a while to grow on me, but seven spins in I’m not feeling the magic that lead me to give his last effort as Mystras album of the year. Luckily, it’s not all he had to offer in 2021, and it’s still pretty enjoyable. The feeling his style gives me is rewarding at its weakest, and I certainly wouldn’t call Empires that. It just hasn’t risen above him doing that thing I love to become a sequence of individually outstanding tracks for me, yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if I regret placing this so low down the line.

23. Urdôl Ur – Seven Portals to the Arcane Realms

There should be a specific term for this like dungeon metal or something

Sample track: Munloire

I eat this stuff up and always have and likely always will. It’s just Summoning worship. Listen to it if you worship Summoning. I bet if it had been released in time to binge through October I’d have placed it higher.

22. 1914 – Where Fear and Weapons Meet

epic black/death metal

Sample track: FN .380 ACP#19074

The cheese of story-focused lyrics told with a less than ideal grasp on English can’t hold back this album from feeling pretty epic. The orchestration and cinematic flare pair well with a theme of World War I, and that thematic continuity is what really holds my interest. Polished big label production doesn’t always do much for my aesthetically, but it has a lot of neat moments and the concept album feel to it keeps me engaged. Not sure it will stick with me long, but I found it very approachable and thoroughly enjoyed the sessions I had with it.

21. Boris – No World Tour In Your Head 2021

punk, hardcore, Boris things

Sample track: Quicksilver

I don’t have the energy to accurately count how many releases Boris put out this year. It’s around 20. They offered very little in the way of new songs, but in COVID’s touring void they dusted off a massive volume of live recordings, issued in a mix of independent albums and tack-on bonuses to rereleases of old material. Collectively, they might comprise my favorite listening experience of 2021. But this is an album list, and releases like SMILE -Live at Wolf Creek and Tokyo Wonder Land were recorded years ago anyway. No World Tour In Your Head 2021 is more than worthy to champion this collection–a frantic explosion of pent up energy channeled into a live studio performance of their most recent full length album.

20. Mare Cognitum – Solar Paroxysm

post-black metal

Sample track: Ataraxia Tunnels

A post-oriented bm album that I might have raved about ten years ago lacks quite the same feeling of originality today. I enjoyed most of this in a forgettable sort of way, which is to say I did enjoy it but wasn’t inspired by the overarching sound the way I’d been with say, Panopticon’s Kentucky when this forlorn but subtly joyful approach was much more of a novelty. The album is very back-loaded though, in my opinion, with Luminous Accretion shipping an intensity I can’t so easily ignore and then Ataraxia Tunnels vastly overshadowing everything before it. The emotional grip of the closing track was enough to propel it up my charts. It’s a real treat, though I wish the rest of the album conveyed the same sense of urgency.

19. Conjureth – Majestic Dissolve

death metal

Sample track: Wet Flesh Vortex

Anything you could need to know about this band is explained within the first ten seconds of the opening track. Top tier sitting in commute traffic with the windows down jams from start to finish.

18. Lamp of Murmuur – Submission and Slavery

gothic black metal

Sample track: Deformed Erotic Visage

Basing two ten minute tracks on a thirty minute album around the same riff was an interesting creative liberty that probably paid off. It doesn’t take much exposure to remember Submission and Slavery. It has an endearing lack of polish–an amateurish approach that aligns well with their black metal aesthetic. Add in some quality post-punk interludes and unexpected Knopflerian solos, and you’ve got an album that feels charmingly distinct. A later discovery, it grew on me fast and may well continue to.

17. Trhä – lhum jolhduc

post-black metal

Sample track: dôlh (0:00 through 14:00)

This is a raw spastic emotional rollercoaster. dôlh breaks my heart in seconds and is an absolute triumph while it holds. The slower passages don’t always sustain my interest as much as I want them to, but it’s one of many solid releases this mysterious new project brought to the table in 2021.

16. Non Serviam – Le Cœur Bat

the soundtrack to my dog telling me to kill the president

Sample track: Inno Individualista

This definitely takes the cake for the weirdest thing I’ve heard this year, or any other time I can remember. The only album I can think to compare it to is Peste Noire’s L’Ordure à l’état Pur, which is a feat in itself. I’ve listened to it a ton and never actually attempted to wrap my head around it for fear I might succeed and shatter the mystery. Suffice to say I feel at zero risk of that without trying. I picked up the hour and a half long deluxe edition and have no idea where the album proper is supposed to end, but it never needs to end really.

15. Trhä – inagape

atmospheric black metal

Sample track: tegëndë dicámbrhëha (0:00 through 11:30)

This just dropped December 24th and moved straight off of Bandcamp onto my year end roster. Tracks that are memorable like lhum jolhduc but with less down time sold me fast. Who knows how high it could have risen given more time. Whoever this guy is, his three 2021 albums mark him as the best new thing in atmospheric black metal, and I hope 2022 is just as prolific.

14. Veilburner – Lurkers in the Capsule of Skull

psychedelic death metal

Sample track: Lurkers in the Capsule of Skull

I regret forgetting about this band for a while. I missed a few albums between Noumenon and Lurkers, and chances are they were all great. Veilburner has a knack for never overselling his pop sensibilities. The album’s loaded with memorable moments that seldom repeat–easter eggs well suited for the passive way I engage most metal. It’s easy to avoid overfamiliarizing myself and reexperience the ride with the same enticing curiosity it offered on first exposure. A tough one to rank, this shifted in and out of my top 10 a lot. I found myself appreciating it more than most but directly enjoying a few others more.

13. Portal – Avow

death metal noise

Sample track: Catafalque

I had a friend die to COVID this year, and this album pretty accurately reflected how I felt about it. It’s viscerally ugly and barely pretends to be music. I find it deeply satisfying when my mood calls for harsh intensity stripped of meaningful melodic progression.

12. Koldovstvo – Ни царя, ни бога

melodic atmospheric black metal

Sample track: IV

Enchanting and mysterious bm hailing from somewhere between Russia and Oregon. I love how the album cover sets the mood for me. Its muffled voices and melodies resonate the damaged eloquence of Victorian ghosts drifting about in their hubris, lamenting the hollow halls of some abandoned estate.

11. Alkerdeel – Slonk

black metal

Sample track: Vier

Smooth doomy black n groovy, unforgiving but chill. The fabulous bass line in the first metal passage doesn’t stick around, but it sets a tone that hangs with me for the entire album. It’s no bullshit black metal that feels simultaneously raw and thick, carefully paced and relentlessly plowing forward.

10. Spectral Wound – A Diabolic Thirst

black metal

Sample track: Frigid and Spellbound

This album flows like extremely violent butter through a headbanging indulgence into every reason I still love classic Immortal and Gorgoroth. It’s deliciously aggressive and uncompromising. I picked it up in a pretty large batch of purchases, and I didn’t get through half of them before coming back to it. It’s since become a short term staple, especially in the car. Every track is instantly captivating. The progression is always satisfying. Traditional but flawless.

9. Kvadrat – Ψυχική Αποσύνθεση

moody death/black metal

Sample track: Αποξένωση

This vibes Ulcerate hard and the opening track is sick. It’s only 23 minutes, and it’s the artist’s first debut under any name that I can find. A great ride with lots of promise for things to come.

8. A Compendium of Curiosities – The Resting Place of Dreams

dungeon synth

Sample track: Hope Never Dies Forever

Along with two hour+ metal opuses, Ayloss found the time this year to record three dungeon synth albums and a pretty outlandish martial mix. The Resting Place of Dreams in particular fully captivated me on a higher level than any dungeon synth I’ve heard before it. The tones on this album are just goddamn gorgeous, and he didn’t hesitate to drop instantly memorable melodies he could have saved for his higher visibility projects. It might not be his most galaxy brain work of the year, but in terms of personal enjoyment, the numbers don’t lie; I accumulated 250 plays of Ayloss’s dungeon synth collection in 2021, and it’s still going strong.

7. Mechina – Siege

symphonic djent

Sample track: Blood Feud Erotica

A djent noodler of epic proportions, the album starts off slow but satisfying and continues to perfect on a sound I think Mechina has gotten better at with every album. If you like to surf symphonic waves while semi-automatic bubbles blast into your ears, you will probably enjoy this. The climax on Blood Feud Erotica is my favorite Mechina moment to date and oh God why did they name it that.

6. Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse

avant-garde death metal

Sample track: Human Interface to No God

Chaos shouldn’t feel this right. It’s a challenging slog given undivided attention, but it hits a perfect sweet spot as a moody background piece that constantly engages my senses while engulfing me in lush intensity. Too unpredictable to ever grow stale, too aesthetically pleasing to overwhelm.

5. Këkht Aräkh – Pale Swordsman

emo black metal

Sample track: Thorns

Not to be confused with the screamo black metal pioneered by Cara Neir before they evolved into video game grindcore, this album is for true cult sad boys only. Këkht Aräkh’s ability to convey emotion through heavily memed-out black metal tropes is pretty compelling. Quality metal moods blend with melancholy sweet piano and vocal interludes to craft an album I fell in love with completely.

4. Trhä – endlhëtonëg

atmospheric black metal, ambient

Sample track: endlhëdëhaj (9:15 through 19:30)

Cast your gaze into the dreamy void. “Atmospheric” fails to convey the extent to which Trhä’s heavy synth over washed out blast beats conjures a surreal ethereal voyage. It’s proven especially aesthetically pleasing at Christmas time, though I’m letting the kiddos stick to Vince Guaraldi.

3. The Armed – Ultrapop

glitzy digital post-hardcore

Sample track: All Futures

I’m not sure how this actually feels like a pop album, because they seem to have figured out how to turn amplifiers up to 12, but it does. An endless barrage of catchy riffs and choruses bludgeoned into my face with rainbow-tinted brass knuckles. Their ability to start off in hyperdrive and make every track climax anyway is insane.

2. Spectral Lore – Ετερόφωτος

medieval black metal

Sample track: Ετερόφωτος

Hollow echoey tones that conjure scenes of rain and spring time. Endless transitions from one intriguing melody and mood to the next, delivered in Ayloss’s trademark warp speed tremolo. This album is hard to enjoy passively for all the right reasons. It rips me out of my environment and casts me into some amalgamation of the artist’s. Every track is so vivid and thick with content, I feel like I’m still discovering it dozens of plays later. Ayloss continues to cement his legacy in my mind as the best song writer of the past decade.

The only drawback is the 19 minute closer Terean, a drug out ambient noise piece. I don’t find it particularly compelling as that style goes. Ετερόφωτος clocks just shy of an hour without it and otherwise closes with a song that very much feels like a closer (and transitions into some unexpected and quite welcome Tool worship in the process). I’m often finding myself listening out Terean afterwards waiting for something more while the better half of me knows I’d be more satisfied just skipping the thing. A pety complaint to focus on, but something had to separate this from the winner.

1. The Ruins of Beverast – The Thule Grimoires

industrial/doom/black metal

Sample track: Kromlec’h Knell

An aural journey that felt inspired on first encounter and never let up all year. Blut Aus Nordian grooves traveling through vivid, harsh landscapes that achieve their threat level via robust song-crafting rather than excess. It’s a genre-spanning masterpiece. I never gave Ruins of Beverast extensive attention prior to this year, but I’ll absolutely be deep diving the discography after I’ve wrapped up 2021.

Previous years on Shattered Lens:

2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018 / 2019 / 2020

My Top 20 Albums of 2020

A bit late, but I’ll never forget about you Shattered Lens. Happy New Year. 🙂

20. Paysage d’Hiver – Im Wald

black metal

Sample track: Alt

Like every Paysage d’Hiver album I’ve heard, Im Wald is a meaty grind that I never fully internalized. At over two hours, this one was especially difficult to soak in. So why include it? I think Wintherr is a very consistent artist. At least, he sets an atmosphere that jives well with me and achieves roughly the same mood from one release to the next, whether he’s plodding out black metal or toying around with ambient noise. I’ve got nearly his entire discography sitting around and have yet to hear something I didn’t enjoy. Das Tor was the closest I came to really appreciating one on an individual track level, but… when in doubt looking for some relatively classic BM sounds to binge in October, Paysage d’Hiver is always a good fallback, and Im Wald sustained that expectation.

I gave this entry a last second bump over Nine Altars by Primeval Mass, which deserves an honorable mention. When it comes to albums I enjoyed a lot in passing but never fully committed to, black metal is going to win me over before thrash most of the time. But my 20th slot was a bit of a toss-up.

19. Krallice – Mass Cathexis

experimental metal

Sample track: Mass Cathexis

An honorary placement perhaps? I’m not sure how deep my bias runs here. I have a lot of respect for what Krallice does, and they have written some of my all time favorite music. Mass Cathexis is a very experimental piece prone to meandering chaos that doesn’t always resolve in a holistically satisfying composition for me, but just seeing them continue to create interesting things gives me a lot of satisfaction. There are a lot of albums I could have put into the low end of my top 20. The positive association I have with the band beyond this particular album gave it the edge over releases in a similar boat of enjoyable but not particularly memorable to me. And the title track featuring Dave Edwardson of Neurosis is pretty sick.

18. Enslaved – Utgard

progressive metal

Sample track: Homebound

I binged Enslaved pretty hard this year, not just this album but in general. Utgard is definitely one of their least interesting releases to me, but as I slowly approach old fart status, it becomes increasingly more appealing to hear old bands I’ve loved for a very long time continue to release music that doesn’t suck. And this is good, so I enjoyed it, and here we are.

17. Funeral Leech – Death Meditation

death metal

Sample track: Morbid Transcendence

I have no recollection of what lead me to pick this up on bandcamp earlier this year, and it hasn’t made any big waves in the metal universe that I know of. It’s a slightly doomy death metal grinder that has never leapt out at me as bearing any particularly unique qualities, but this sort of sound has an occasional home in my play list, and for whatever imperceptible reason, this is the album I was most inclined to put on when that mood struck.

16. Emyn Muil – Afar Angathfark

basically Summoning

Sample track: Arise in Gondolin (extended)

When you base your sound around one of the most unique bands in metal, I suppose the parallels are unavoidable, but Emyn Muil doesn’t seem to care about any sense of originality. The homage here goes a bit beyond copying a style. Black Shining Crown, for instance, directly lifts its melody from The Glory Disappears off Stronghold, and it borderline qualifies as a cover song. …Giving it a new name rather than acknowledging it as such is at least a bit awkward, but honestly, I don’t really care. Summoning is sitting pretty at my #3 most listened-to band ever, and I’ll gladly indulge a group that goes out of their way to sound exactly like them. I haven’t actually heard their earlier albums yet, but given that my favorite track on this is a reworking of Arise in Gondolin from their 2013 debut, I’m pretty optimistic. Afar Angathfark is fun and highly attuned to my tastes, if entirely unoriginal, and despite a fairly late discovery, I ended up listening to it quite a lot this year.

15. Black Sky Giant – Orbiter

spacey rock

Sample track: The Phobos Rider

This is the only album that made my list that I wouldn’t really classify as metal. It’s a smooth, spacey jam that gets a bit heavy at times, a bit rock and roll at others, but definitely aims for chill vibes throughout. I have no idea how I even stumbled onto it, I really never dug in to learn much about it, and the artist seems to be pretty obscure. But it’s a great night mood when I want a pulse without an edge, and it’s kept me company a fair bit in recent months.

14. Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville

avantgarde metal

Sample track: City Swine

I gave Vile Luxury second place in 2018, and I don’t regret it. What made Alphaville a bit harder to process was, well, Imperial Triumphant aren’t a novelty to me anymore. That what the hell am I listening to thrill is numbed, and we’re meandering eclectic through a chaotic scene I’ve seen before. Imperial Triumphant don’t write memorable, catchy riffs. They don’t conjure a contemplative atmosphere to focus my senses and drive me along from the background. This is a barely-hanging-on jumble of harsh contrasts, discordant noise, and patchworked transitions, all quite well suited and effective for capturing their sinister portrayal of urban opulence. If I was still in hobby of writing proper album reviews, I could conjure a pretty gushing one here, but when it comes to just ranking what I’ve enjoyed listening to the most, well, there are only so many undistracted hours I can devote to one album, and that’s what Alphaville demands. In the absence of that initial novelty of their sound I experienced two years ago, I do still love this, just not quite as replayably.

13. Havukruunu – Uinuos Syömein Sota

pagan black metal

Sample track: Uinuos Syömein Sota

First impressions are misleading, and that’s why this album stands where it does. I only discovered it sorting through other people’s year end lists, and while my initial impression was very positive, it never got the time to grow or fade on me. It was really exciting to hear something fresh within the pagan bm spectrum, and I wanted to bump this up really high, but lack of an opportunity to see how it stands for me over time held it back a bit. And unlike another album I stumbled into in the closing week of December, the growth didn’t force itself on me organically through a compulsion to just keep listening to it over and over again. I suspect this will move up, but this is the spot it’s earned for me so far.

12. Finntroll – Vredesvävd

folk metal

Sample track: Mask

Yep. It’s been seven years, but Finntroll have a new album, and unlike quite a few gimmicky folk metal bands of their era, they’re still pretty damn good. If you’re familiar with anything this band’s released since Visor om slutet, you won’t be in for any surprises. If you like your metal with heavy synth and a side of polka, you won’t be in for any disappointments either.

11. Cénotaphe – Monte Verità

black metal

Sample track: Aux cieux antérieurs

An energized, driving debut full length out of the black metal powerhouse that is France, Monte Verità offers a hint of viking metal and some pretty catchy riffs. Cénotaphe keep it dark but vibrant, setting a mood that has stood the test of time well for me as a background piece that keeps me energized without getting in the way. I was surprised by just how many times I’d actually listened to this when I was going through my year end options. The numbers don’t lie. This was one of my most listened to BM albums of 2020 and still feels fresh as I’m writing this.

10. Primitive Man – Immersion

drone/doom metal

Sample track: The Lifer

This was my first time hearing Primitive Man. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Caustic, but I came into Immersion with a blank slate, and I have to say I enjoyed it quite a lot. The Lifer is an awesome opening track that just instantly crushes you under the weight of this band’s sound… and then not terribly much happens for the next 36 minutes. I think you either vibe with it or you don’t. These guys drag everything out at such lengths that it sometimes feels more like a very brutalized Sunn O))) album than something in the traditional doom metal sphere. The sheer weight of their sound is unmatched by anything I’ve heard personally, and at just over half an hour, it manages to compress a slow roll into a sufficiently brief package to still have identifiable songs without requiring too attentive of a listen to process. I actually preordered this based on a few samples, and that initial appeal has managed to sustain through to the end of the year. Definitely a band I’ll continue to keep tabs on. I also stumbled into the Sweet Leaf cover of my dreams along the way.

9. Wayfarer – A Romance with Violence

atmospheric black/folk metal

Sample track: Masquerade Of The Gunslingers

It’s hard to say how much Wayfarer’s open embrace of the American west in theme and imagery preemptively colors my perception of their sound. The acoustic guitar passages certainly carry it deep into the music, but there’s something very compelling in their full package. I often find their drudging mood highly reminiscent of Drudkh from an inattentive distance–a band that similarly captures a specific folk aesthetic with fairly minimal open deference to musical tradition. Much like World’s Blood, which also finished high for me when I first discovered the band in 2018, A Romance with Violence is a difficult album for me to sit down and focus on. It’s a mood piece in which I find few memorable passages but a steady progression that can keep me passively engaged as I go about my work and let its ambience fill the void around me. It’s been one of my go-to defaults to put on when nothing else is immediately drawing me, and in that distanced capacity it has managed to rack up more plays than most this year despite an October release.

8. VoidCeremony – Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel

progressive death metal

Sample track: Sacrosanct Delusions

It’s rare for a death metal album to sit this well with me in terms of plain old repeatable enjoyment, but this one really hits a sweet spot. Loaded with complex but catchy hooks and outstanding bass runs, it manages to merge brutal intensity and enough oddly timed noodling to keep my brain occupied while still feeling smooth on the edges. As someone who doesn’t listen to much death metal, it’s hard for me to make a direct comparison. The bass here sort of reminds me of Opeth’s Morningrise, not in tone but in the way it tends to flare up into a second lead adding another layer of life to the sound, making otherwise generically harsh passages feel vibrant and alluring.

7. Boris – NO

punk, doom

Sample track: Anti-Gone

What a triumph. I’m always hesitant to label anything my unconditional “favorite” in music. These lists are just a silly excuse to double down on exploring and sharing what I’ve enjoyed most throughout the year. But let’s be real. I’ve been doing this for two decades now, and there’s only one name that has never faded out of top ten contention into obscurity through those years. Boris is my favorite band by so many objective measures that there’s really no point in pretending they’re anything less or putting on a facade of unbiased scrutiny towards their eternal onslaught of new releases.

NO leaves its mark in their discography in the form of unrelenting energy, and that’s a pretty unusual statement for a band to make nearly 30 years into their history. It’s a sound that’s been fundamental in their repertoire from the get-go and frequently reared its head for a track or two up through Pink, but it wasn’t what made them great. Ibitsu and Furi felt like filler tracks on Akuma no Uta. There’s a lengthy stretch between Heavy Friends and Kane the Bell Tower of a Sign that I barely remember on Heavy Rocks. Boris were killing it on post-rock and doom metal and bluesy 60s rock anthems in a way that I felt overshadowed their punk inclinations before eventually branching out in every direction imaginable. NO takes it back to the punk roots hard, but with no strings attached. Especially in that post-Flood era of rock cuts, I feel like they were writing songs that built on the ideas of their predecessors. There was a sort of formula to it all, that over-the-top-distorted 60s blues aesthetic cut loose into rock and roll. By 2020, there’s really no point in comparing Boris to anyone but Boris. NO is 40 minutes of doing that thing they do with an intensity they haven’t approached in ages, and their sound has expanded so much in the interim that all of their previous punk inclinations pale in comparison.

6. Velnias – Scion of Aether

folk post-metal

Sample track: Supernal Emergent

I saw Velnias live in 2010 opening for Alcest and was impressed enough by the performance to pick up their then only release, Sovereign Nocturnal, but I dropped the ball on ever giving it a proper listen. When Scion of Aether dropped on Bandcamp this year, something triggered a recommendation ping, and it took 30 seconds of sampling to convince me to grab a copy. They tend to be labeled folk metal of that American sort, and I definitely picked up on vibes reminiscent of Wolves in the Throne Room and Agalloch in their performance a decade ago. But this is something a bit more polished than those bands, with a grooving progressive aesthetic sometimes reminiscent of Russian Circles adorned by earthy organic tones. This album offers immersion in a primitive natural setting through the smooth brain massage of post-metal.

It was interesting finding myself placing this album so close to Wayfarer. I suspect on a superficial level they may feel very similar, but the holistic experience is completely different for me. A Romance with Violence is ideal in the background, setting the mood without getting in the way. Scion of Aether is distracting, frequently gripping my attention. A Romance with Violence is grounded and bleak. Scion of Aether is, well, a bit aethereal.

5. Ulcerate – Stare Into Death and Be Still

atmospheric death metal

Sample track: Drawn Into the Next Void

I am very hesitant to put late discoveries in my top 10. I’ve been there and laughed at myself for it enough before. First impressions can be pretty slanted, and albums with a lot of catchy riffs especially start out higher than they often end up. But this isn’t that kind of album. This is a slow grower that hooked me so fast it has accumulated a month’s worth of plays in the past seven days. I knew I was in for something special the first run through by the way its mood resonated with me. When absolutely nothing specific stands out but I still walk away feeling incredible, an album is destined to hold up well, because the familiarity will establish itself in an already highly positive context. I’ve been listening to this obsessively ever since, and every time I notice more and more detail fleshing out the massive if morbid world of sound they’re presenting. Drawn Into the Next Void’s crushing waltz is the highlight for me so far, but I don’t think I am anywhere near done exploring this album yet, and I won’t be surprised if 5th place feels too low when all is said and done.

4. Lure – Morbid Funeral

black metal

Sample track: La danse du pendu

What a find. I’ve never heard a single band on Amor Fati and stumbled into this debut demo on a lark clicking through fairly random recommendations. I think the post-black metal tag is beginning to feel dull in an era where bands that don’t take the genre some place unexpected rarely get mentioned. Fifteen years ago, I might have used it here. It’s noteworthy because Morbid Funeral has a lot of the trappings of a conventional black metal album. It’s as brilliantly raw as its French origin promises and definitely sustained by perpetual blast beats, tremolo, and unearthly howls. But it is intensely emotionally evocative in a way that characterization fails to imply. It’s a constant onslaught of gut-wrenching chord progressions paced to feel like absolute desperation which, despite the shortest track clocking at over 12 minutes, rarely breaks into anything that could be perceived as fill. The album descends down a rabbit hole of rapid-fire despair that climaxes 7 minutes into the closing track in reverse form, slamming on the breaks for the first time in half an hour to slow roll out a death knell broken bittersweet melody while B.F.S. coughs and chokes and loses his freaking mind on the microphone. La danse du pendu will inevitably be overlooked in most metal circles in 2020, but to call Lure the most promising new artist I’ve heard in a few years would be a disservice; he offered a masterpiece out the gate.

3. Liturgy – Origin of the Alimonies

post-black metal

Sample track: SIHEYMN’s Lament

Where do you even begin with a Liturgy album? A big step up from H.A.Q.Q. for me, which I nevertheless enjoyed, Origin of the Alimonies is yet another unique and inspired installment in a discography that’s been so persistently ahead of its time I think more people will respect this 20 years from now than do today. H.A.Q.Q. was, for all its oddities, at least a slight return to form in reinviting the project’s black metal roots into the framework. Origin of the Alimonies reaches back into the unknown, but not with the bold curiosity I adore on The Ark Work. This is a highly refined album, carried along by a narrative orchestration, the intensity flaring up in fits and starts as movements within Hunter’s esoteric tale. It’s some sort of black metal opera.

I can listen to this all day and never [i”>feel[/i”> like I’m listening to a metal album. For all its intense drumming and screams and tremolo guitar, the mood is almost intellectual. Hunter’s a pretty rare gem impervious to conformity and brilliant at articulating the the unique musical ideas in her mind, and I can easily call this my second favorite album in her discography.

2. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin kynsi

psychedelic black metal

Sample 1: Kuulen ääniä maan alta
Sample 2: Taivaan portti

I picked up the new Oranssi Pazuzu almost as a matter of policy. I’ve known about them since their debut and have every full length album. After a certain amount of accumulation, a band just becomes automatic. But honestly, I couldn’t have told you anything about them. I never really [i”>listened[/i”> to them, not even as a passive background piece. I dimly acknowledged that they were doing creative original things within the sphere of my metal interests, and that was good enough for me, but every release to this point was one spin and done. Going back and briefly sampling their older albums, I’m not convinced that I was missing out. Their sound is distinct, but not the sort that instantly compels me to relisten. I don’t think I’ve given their past releases enough of a fair chance to say that Mestarin kynsi is different, but my goodness did it strike me differently from the get-go.

The album kicks off with a seven minute brooding introduction that builds up an eerie mood for things to come and ultimately climaxes into a pretty groovy but still restrained dark jam that’s driven as much by electronic tones as anything conventionally metal. The restraint is key, because each track takes this same approach while growing just a little bit more unhinged. It’s a masterfully planned collective work in terms of persistently evolving through levels of linear progression. Tyhjyyden sakramentti starts off as brooding as Ilmestys, but now a bit jazzed up, with a climax that’s more intense and a further progression out of that mid-track explosion into a warped psychedelic nightmare.

This progression through levels of increasing intensity and weirdness sort of maxes out near the end of Uusi teknokratia, roughly half way through the album, and you get a sort of soft reset with its outro and the subsequent Oikeamielisten sali, which feels entirely tame after where the album had gone before. A bit of a let down at first, but it came to feel like an integral part of the journey as I grew more familiar with the album, because we’re segueing into the two most wild tracks in the mix to close things out. Kuulen ääniä maan alta is a beat-driven electronic trip that takes the album to, if not its most intense moment thus far, certainly its most bizarre and satisfying. And the closer Taivaan portti is one of those grand finales that start at 11 and cram more and more and more into a sound space that was maxed out from the get-go until it finally just collapses into nothing. That’s a whole lot of hype words that don’t really say much of anything. Just go listen to it. I also found this fantastic live performance of the album. Taivaan portti is the sort of track that’s made to be experienced live, and the video does not disappoint.

This is, essentially, my idea of a perfectly crafted album, stringing together six independently grand tracks into a master work with clear flow and vision. It’s the sort of album I can easily give 1st place to and not feel silly about later, because it appeals to me both innately and as a piece of auditory art.

1. Mystras – Castles Conquered and Reclaimed

medieval black metal

Sample track: The Zealots of Thessaloniki

Relegating Spectral Lore’s III to second place on my 2014 list was a pretty boneheaded mistake, and after a great deal of consideration, I’m going to do it again. I’m not sure why Ayloss released this under a different name, but after half a decade of ambient and electronic pieces, this is absolutely the heir to III. Years later, when I’m still listening to it regularly and have long forgotten the winner, I will once again ask myself, why necromoonyeti? Why do you botch the list every single time?

…At least, that’s where my write-up sat for the past month. Relistening to everything one last time as I prepare to post this, I’m going with the switch. I do feel Oranssi Pazuzu delivered the most complete package I heard in 2020–a visionary work that I both enjoyed tremendously and admired for its sustained attention to how each piece weaves into the album as a whole. But if the question boils down to what I loved listening to the most in 2020, there’s just no debate to be had here.

Ayloss has an absolutely unmistakable guitar style that lead me to instantly identify him in this before I realized what I’d clicked on, and the fuzzy ear candy tones he employs lend to endless repeatability. If you can imagine Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal but rounded on the edges, Ayloss’s finished products are something closer to melodic white noise than metal. It’s downright soothing, and I don’t think I’ve ever found an artist with more background play equity for me personally.

Castles Conquered and Reclaimed might be my favorite Ayloss release to date. It’s hard to say. I’ll have to see what I’m queuing first another year from now. But there is a thematic difference going on, at least to my ears, that projects this album into a medieval sphere dominated lately by Obsequiae, where III felt very other-worldly and earlier Spectral Lore albums tended to give me nature vibes. Evoking the spirits of ancient battles and temples in ruin, ghosts echoing their glory across some sunlit plain. That’s how this album translates into my brain. And if I’m getting pretty far afield in fantasy land here, it must be a pretty unique composition to be able to take me there.

Previous years on Shattered Lens:

2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018 / 2019

My Top 10 Metal Albums of 2013

It’s that time again. In spite of 2013 being pretty much the worst year of my life, I found it a lot easier to select a top 10 list than in 2012. Odd-numbered years almost always seem to produce a wider selection of good music, and I can confidently state that each of these at least border on excellence. Here goes:

10. Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen (track: Regen)

There was never a bad Emperor album. Ihsahn’s solo career hasn’t been quite as consistent. The Adversary was an outstanding start, but I barely noticed angL. After was a blast, Eremita something of a bore. Well, what do you know; the cycle continues, and Das Seelenbrechen is outstanding. Eremita seemed all about rhythmic grooves and eclectic interludes, neither of which painted a grand picture for me to take hold of. Das Seelenbrechen, without reducing any of the progressive rock peculiarities for which Ihsahn is famous, reinvests its tension in song structure and the subtler stuff of atmospheric appeal. At times it delves heavily into the world of drone metal, with Tobias Ørnes Andersen pulling off his best Atsuo impression and Ihsahn showing that his unique vocals are pretty well suited for the genre as they stand. The most impressive track on the album might be “Pulse”, if only for the fact that Ihsahn was able to stray so far from his comfort zone and still pull off an excellent song, but my personal favorite has to be “Regen”.

9. Ash Borer – Bloodlands (track: Oblivion’s Spring)

I missed out on Ash Borer’s acclaimed 2011 debut and the 2012 full-length to follow, but the Bloodlands “EP” (it’s still 35 minutes long) found itself well embedded in my subconscious this year. Like many of my selections, I never really sat down and gave it my undivided attention from start to finish. It was a busy year, and most of my albums were experienced as background music rather than a main event. I was kind of surprised to find just how many times I’d listened to this album throughout the year. It was never really on my radar, but I kept playing it time and time again. A twisted, bleak, highly atmospheric recording, Bloodlands successfully captures a traditional black metal vibe that is neither overly passionate nor distractingly aggressive. It’s a pleasant break from the otherwise welcome trend towards a less sinister, more humanizing approach to the genre.

8. Westering – Joy (track: This Will Quiet Us)

Joy is definitely the weirdest album I’ve heard this year that actually worked. Bryan Thomas’s second release as Westering is a cracked window peering into folk, industrial, and maybe even 80s pop scenes, sensible to melodic appeal yet firmly rooted in black metal tradition. To label it another “shoegaze black metal” album would hardly do it justice; the warbling walls of distortion don’t angelicize the metal, but rather demonize the more direct pop elements, creating a final product basked in darkness yet awkwardly catchy and familiar.

7.Ensemble Pearl – Ensemble Pearl (track: Island Epiphany)

It’s sad that this album has gone almost completely unnoticed in 2013. It’s sad that people regard it as another Boris album, or as “Boris and Sunn O))) Part 2”. Because, while it shares much in common with Altar, the cast is quite different and the end product surprisingly even better than its predecessor. While Atsuo Mizuno and Stephen O’Malley reunite, Takeshi and Wata are out, as well as Greg Anderson. Michio Kurihara steps up to the plate along with a fellow I’ve never head of–Bill Herzog–to complete the lineup. The sound these four have managed to assemble is flawless. Smooth as glass and black as night, Ensemble Pearl is a compelling example of music’s capacity to paint a scene more vivid than sight can ever offer.

6. Paysage d’Hiver – Das Tor (track: Macht des Schicksals)

Like Ash Borer, Paysage d’Hiver provided ideal background music for me throughout the year. With a similar appreciation for late 90s/early 2000s atmospheric black metal aesthetics, Das Tor presents a significantly noisier, more trance-inducing break from current metal trends. I fell in love with this album’s capacity for endless repetition as the backdrop for work, reading, and just about any other activity that requires concentration. This particular style of black metal has always really zoned me in and helped me to focus, and Paysage d’Hiver’s take on it is substantially better than most.

5. Mechina – Empyrean (track: Anathema)

Fear Factory’s 1998 opus, Obsolete, was the last industrial death metal album to really blow me away. A lot of bands go there, but few, at least in my experience, are willing to fully nerd out into uncompromised sci-fi fantasy. There is something about the death metal mentality that inclines most bands to play with their nuts out, and it rarely works in their favor. Mechina don’t fall for that. They have no qualms whatsoever about employing clean vocals, dramatic symphonics, and operatic hymns to serve their end. Empyrean paints a lush vision of a futuristic world of technology and galactic combat on the brink of apocalypse. Really stellar stuff. … ha..ha… hmm…

4. Summoning – Old Mornings Dawn (track: Old Mornings Dawn)

It took Summoning seven years to release a new album. I would not be surprised if they were hard at work on it that whole time. Not quite as perfect as Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame, Old Morning Dawn is nevertheless an instant essential within the Summoning discography, never wavering an inch from the solid sound they forged a decade ago. I can’t think of too many albums I’ve anticipated for this long that didn’t let me down (Falkenbach’s Tiurida in 2011 might be the most recent exception), and for that, coming from one of my favorite bands ever, Old Mornings Dawn easily slides in towards the top of my chart.

3. Cara Neir – Portals to a Better, Dead World (track: Peridot)

I remember when I was first getting into black metal and a friend of mine was doing the same with screamo. They seemed like two incommensurable paths at the time. We’d trade the best of what we found, and I love a lot of screamo because of it, but that was his genre and this was mine. There just wasn’t all that much in common between Carpathian Forest and City of Caterpillar.

Times have changed, and much for the better. I’ve tossed around “screamo” and “black metal” in the same sentence before (Roads to Judah), but this is certainly the most raw realization of the two as one that I have heard so far. Portals to a Better, Dead World is another fine product of a new era of metal artists informed beyond their flagship genre. It might not achieve the fame of Deafheaven’s Sunbather, but the two go hand in hand.

2. Deafheaven- Sunbather (track: Dream House)

And that brings us to the most hyped metal album of 2013. Sunbather turned more heads than Roads to Judah, and certainly more than Liturgy’s Aesthethica or Krallice’s Diotima back in 2011. But while the mainstream world regrettably failed to recognize that year as the grand coalescence of heavy metal’s mid-2000s paradigm shift, on Sunbather we reap its fruits. This album is not the novelty many would like to make of it; it is an affirmation of things already come to pass, and a glorious one at that. Music seems to come in sequences of waves, the reluctant undertow of their predecessors slowly dissipating beneath the growing weight of those rushing to shore. Sunbather basks in a new era of aesthetics and ingenuity first dreamed by the likes of Ulver, pressed into form by Agalloch and Alcest, and finally swept into the mainstream three years ago. Love it while it lasts, and amuse yourself with the die-hards that will rip this to shreds rather than embrace it.

1. Peste Noire – Peste Noire

And then there was one. I proclaimed Peste Noire the best album of 2013 about an hour after it leaked back in June, and nothing since has come even close to shaking that resolve. I’ve been doing a “top 10 album” list now every year since 2002, and Peste Noire is the only band to ever take the #1 spot twice, but never mind that. Ballade cuntre lo Anemi francor has absolutely nothing on what you will experience here. Let’s try “top 10 metal albums ever recorded”. I have never heard anything quite this clever, filthy, intelligent, and depraved in my life. Famine’s “black ‘n’ roll” sound has never been better, and Peste Noire can rightly be regarded as the refinement of all of the finest features of his past four albums rolled out into one.

The album is heavily enhanced by Famine’s new willingness to tell us what it’s all about. Up through the release of L’Ordure à l’état Pur in 2011, it was anyone’s guess what Famine’s peculiar album antics were all about. He was completely inaccessible as an individual, and his lyrics have always been in French. The man behind the music has since emerged full-formed as an internet personality, conducting interviews, approving lyric translations, and responding to forum inquiries in surprisingly fluent English. He’s revealed himself as an extremely culturally and musically informed character with a sardonic sense of humor that seems to abate the more offensive features of his image, and he completely reformed my view on L’Ordure à l’état Pur–an album I’d initially disregarded, but have since grown to love.

I tried to give Peste Noire a fair review over the summer, but I couldn’t quite do it justice. This article does. Skip to 20 minutes in the above video if you care to hear my favorite track on the album: “Niquez Vos Villes”.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

Review: Torche – Harmonicraft

In 2008, I thought of Torche as the most poppy stoner metal on the market. By 2012, the attributes have reversed. You won’t hear anything quite as doomy as Meanderthal’s title track, Pirhaña, or Sandstorm. That crushingly deep guitar still accompanies most of the tracks, it just doesn’t ever become the drawing point of the songs. On Harmonicraft, a catchy melody is job number one, and the results are tremendously effective. From the cover art on down, this is and will likely remain one of the most instantly appealing albums of 2012, and it exhibits a sort of songwriting ethos which hasn’t been very prevalent since the 90s.

Harmonicraft’s introductory song, Letting Go, certainly doesn’t mesmerize the way Triumph of Venus did. But unlike Grenades, Kicking requires no epic lead in:


Kicking introduces what will be the style and attitude for the entire album, and it amounts to nothing short of 1990s alternative rock. That occasional Foo Fighters vibe Meanderthal gives off was no accident, but it wasn’t necessarily a product of any direct “influence” either. I think the similarities you might draw to various 90s bands result from Torche’s mindset. Calling Torche “90s rock” is a little ambiguous of course, this being 2012. I suppose one could more directly observe that they took a stoner/post-rock sound and made it bright and bubbly, leading to a sort of “stoner pop” novelty. But when you apply the term “pop” to anything but teen idols you’re being just as vague, and furthermore, though Harmonicraft might seem new from a stoner metal perspective, it feels to me refreshingly nostalgic.

Snakes Are Charmed

Frankly, attempting to categorize Harmonicraft does it a disservice. It’s not a band trying to perfect or expand upon x musical style. It expresses more freedom than that. It harkens back to a time when heavier bands emphasized their own individuality, genres be damned. And that’s why it reminds me of rock in the 90s. I wouldn’t even call it metal, any more than I would call Nirvana or The Offspring punk. And as such, I think it stands at the forefront of music today.

The new standard is synthesis. Metal has been pulling it off lately, especially last year, with bands like Falconer putting a professional gloss on the best of many sub-genres rolled into one, while Liturgy, Deafheaven, and company were forging a more personal if sometimes less formidable approach to the same. Here, Torche are bringing it back to rock. Songs like Snakes Are Charmed have all of the immediate appeal of an instant radio staple, yet rather than repeating something stale, they reinvigorate rock through their more contemporary roots. You hear the stoner/doom and post-rock influences not as those styles, but rather as integrated elements of what it is to be a good rock band. The 90s took the metal and punk subspecies defined in the 80s and made it happen. Now here’s a band getting the job done with musical developments of the last 10 to 15 years.

If there’s any one band I could really compare it to, I’d say Boris.

Walk It Off

I actually forgot that Torche and Boris released a split in 2009 and toured together until after I drew the connection. In Walk It Off the influence is most apparent. Wata’s style is hers alone, but you can definitely feel the sort of inspiration she brings bleeding over into Steve Brooks’ own solos. (Or perhaps Andrew Elstner’s. I don’t actually know who plays lead.) But perhaps even more noteworthy, the more I listen to this track the more I feel that, above all else, the solo really resembles Billy Corgan.


And this all amounts to a really awkward way of going about an album review. Sometimes that’s inevitable. No amount of describing Harmonicraft from a metal perspective can do it justice, because it really isn’t a metal album. It is, on the one hand, an immediately and undeniably appealing compilation of catchy tunes which utilize various recent musical movements, mostly within the metal sphere of influence, to accomplish the delivery, and on the other hand, a sign of hope. It excites me to see that this trend towards emphasizing synthesis instead of genre expansion is beginning to spill out of metal and into more accessible rock. I’ll be disappointed if Harmonicraft ends up my favorite album of the year. It’s not that kind of album. It bears no strong message in and of itself–lacks the depth of a masterpiece. But if it could, by some twist of fate, become 2012’s most influential creation, I’d not complain.

Review: The Flight of Sleipnir – Essence of Nine

This has been sort of the year of stoner metal. I swear a new entry to the stoner/doom/sludge genre comes out every week. I’ve ignored most of it. It’s not that I dislike it, I just haven’t been in the mood. But once in a while I’ll sample a few tracks here and there, give each band a minute or two of my time. The Flight of Sleipnir didn’t even require that much effort–within the first ten seconds of the opening track I was hooked.


How these guys aren’t on the radar is beyond me, because this is pretty much everything I could ever want from an album. Sure, the production isn’t that great, but neither is Black Sabbath’s, so let’s get over that right form the start and soak this all in. Here’s a band that just hands you everything you could wnat on a silver platter right form the get-go. A killer bluesy stoner metal groove, delicious acoustic interludes, perfectly executed black metal style screaming, beautiful clean vocals that harken to Mikael Akerfeldt, and we’re only five minutes into the album.

As Ashes Rise (The Embrace of Dusk)

As you might have expected, the opener is just an introduction to what they have in store. Sure they’ve played all of their cards. No additional styles or elements are implemented further down the line. But what they’ve introduced just keeps on improving as the album progresses.

There is a surprising prominence of acoustic melodies packed into Essence of Nine, so much so that I’m inclined to call it folk metal just as much as stoner metal. The abundant allusions to Norse mythology and use of rune stones on a decidedly doom metal album cover suggest that the band would agree. That distinction alone could make an album stand apart, but if “stoner folk metal” is now a term with meaning, they’ve done more than initiate. They’ve come awfully close to perfecting it.

The Seer in White

Because the quality of their song writing overshadows the fact that what they’re doing here is unique. And while I’ve showcased those songs that most appeal to me–the most folk-centric of the lot–there is plenty to be had for fans of the more punishing characteristics of doom. It’s never quite crushing enough to rival the best artists of that sort of music, but as a compliment to the folk side of their sound rather than the main focus of the music, it’s certainly sufficient. Given a live venue and enough amplification I think they would blow me away.

As Cinders Burn (The Wake of Dawn)

Anyway, there you have it. I think I’ll spend more time talking about this album than actually listening to it throughout the year. It’s not the sort of thing I’m always in the mood for, but I can find no fault. People looking for strictly doom metal might find it lacking, but if you’re interested in something a bit more diverse Essence of Nine is a sure bet.